The Italians can do city cars and supercars brilliantly, but historically have tended to flounder when it comes to my favourite type of car: the superfluous status symbol luxury saloon.
Their history is littered with luxury lemons – large pointless cars that have fundamentally failed to grasp what it is that makes buyers tick at the posh end of the saloon market.
The Alfa 6 sits directly within this noble tradition of Italian duffers; indeed it is a case study in how not to do it, which is probably why I have always had an interest in them, even if I have never quite got around to owning one.
The brochure will probably suffice: it was one of the first I sent off for when I started collecting car catalogues as a schoolboy, a lavish affair with various pull-out sections. Explaining the ‘styling philosophy’ the copywriter digs himself a hole when he effectively admits that the Alfa 6 was ‘a better car than it looks’, which in fairness would not be difficult.
Today we have platform sharing. In the ’70s it was thought acceptable to share major body panels, too. Leyland did it with the Maxi and the 1800, Alfa did it with the 6 – which uses the doors of the cheaper Alfetta, quintessential Italian cop car of the day.
To make the Alfa 6 look bigger and more important, larger front and rear wings were simply hung on each end, tending to make the flagship look narrow for its length.
The history books tell us the 6 was actually created before the Alfetta, but kept on ice for a decade. So if its angular, nondescript styling was all the rage in the early ’70s, by 1979, when it finally launched, it was met with derision by the press.
Alfa tried to make a case for it by saying it didn’t attract ‘unwanted attention’ in Italy, where kidnapping was still a great sport at the time (the abduction and murder of former premier Aldo Moro was still fresh in the memory), but the excuse didn’t really wash.
Even the Alfa Romeo management knew the 6 was rubbish. Seven managing directors oversaw its development, but only one had the nerve to give it the green light for production.
The shame was that the Alfa 6 was really a fairly nice car under its boxy bodywork. Its throaty V6 engine (hence the name) would push it to 120mph – it was Italy’s fastest four-door production car for a while – and it handled well; useful when you needed to out-manoeuvre all those Red Brigade types who weren’t noticing you.
For those who really were nervous about bandits, a popular option for the Alfa 6 in Italy was bombproofing with bulletproof glass and body panels. In its home market you could also buy a poverty 2-litre version (bizarrely thirstier than the 2.5 because it had to work harder to shift the weight) and a 5-cylinder diesel which appears to have been reasonably popular: you still occasionally see them in Italy even today.
Quite why Alfa saw fit to prolong the agony with a fuel-injected second generation 6 in 1983 is a mystery, but by 1986 it was all over.
A total of 6589 Alfa Romeo Alfa 6s were built. Most went to government officials and possibly lesser Mafia hoods. In Britain, Alfa GB would sell you a 6 for half the asking price, because they were so desperate to get rid of them. Even with that inducement only 128 came to the UK and of those only a handful survive.
The closest I ever got to 6 ownership was a 90, which was terrible but great fun. And, given their rarity on these shores now, that’s unlikely to change.